By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
By Jeff Balke
By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
By Ben DuBose
Sherwood Cryer turned left off of Spencer Highway and bounced over the tall weeds growing through the cracks. He stopped his old pickup, got out and stood gazing upon a vast concrete pasture. It was eight years, two weeks and a day after the largest honky-tonk in the western world closed for good. The wind was blowing through his white hair, and he seemed to be whispering to himself, remembering something kind of sweet. But -- ssssssss -- the old boy was just pissing on the ruins.
"Don't do no good to cry about it,'' he said, and he zipped up his coveralls and began pacing the wreckage of his kingdom.
Gilley's was named after his partner, Mickey Gilley, but Sherwood was the redneck king. "Hell," he said, "we were a redneck place." Just thousands and thousands of so-called urban cowboys "drinking beer, chasing pussy and living their dreams." This here was the original slab, he said, pointing down, and if you look at the cracks, you can see the other slabs and how the walls were pushed back every time business got strong. The mechanical bulls were bolted down into these holes, and "People rode them sumbitches regular.'' Gilley's was the place to be in Pasadena, and after "one of them damn dago boys, John Travolta,'' came down and made Urban Cowboy, Gilley's was so popular, it had its own beer, recording studio and national radio show. Sherwood met all the singing stars. He even met presidents Reagan and Bush. "Shook hands with them fuckers several times," he said.
Sherwood paused. All the ghosts disappeared. There were only acres and acres of absolutely nothing.
"I was a success," he said, "and then I let a singer wipe me out. Come on -- I'll take you and show you his house.''
He drove from one side of Pasadena to another and from nothing to everything. As his old truck turned onto a nice, private section of Lily Street, Sherwood looked like he'd come to mow Mickey Gilley's grass.
"That's his office there, and they're in there making money hand over fist,'' he said, pointing. "This is their bus barn. And this is his mansion on the hill.''
Sherwood sat in the truck, staring through the gates. It was a nice-looking house, considerably nicer than his own room at G's Ice House. There's an Olympic-sized swimming pool back there, he said, but you can't see it from here, so he drove around the block and into a subdivision where an empty lot was for sale. He got out again and marched through the wildflowers. At the back fence, he parted the bushes and pointed. There, he said -- that's the tennis court and his mother-in-law's house, and "if you look, there is a damn swimming pool that is a monster!"
It was just as he said -- eyeball proof that Mickey Gilley was living well. Sherwood trampled the flowers again. He got back into his truck and returned to his tin shack on the side of the highway.
"Son, old age is hell,'' his father, who is 93, tells him, but Sherwood said he really doesn't know. He once bit a man's ear off, and at 70, he hasn't mellowed. When a good customer recently conked him on the head with a cue ball, Sherwood picked up his own billiard ball and gave much better than he got.
Pasadena abounds with Sherwood stories, and they all have similar endings. If you don't follow Sherwood's rules, you become the victim of his terrible wrath. Sherwood Rule Number One: Don't take what Sherwood claims as his.
At Shell Oil, he used to enjoy milk and cookies on his break. One day, he discovered his Oreos missing. This continued to happen, until finally, a howl rang out. "You son of a bitch," said Sherwood, arriving on the scene: What those Oreos tasted like was exactly what was in them -- chicken shit.
No one ever stole Sherwood Cryer's cookies again.
He has made it a point to show thieves that stealing from him will cost more than retail. He has shot them breaking in, and he has shot them running away. "But I have never shot a man who didn't deserve to be shot,'' said Sherwood. "Of course, there's some needed to be shot I never got around to.''
The suit-wearing world would say Sherwood suffers from a lifelong disregard for the law and delicate human feelings. In his mind, though, he is the victim of two great thieves: Mickey Gilley and his own daughter, Cheri Sue Salinas.
He spends his days contemplating revenge. In G's Ice House, the one-letter remainder of the Gilley's empire, he said he's "hanging in there like a hair on a grilled cheese sandwich."
With refineries on the horizon, the land around G's somehow always looks like noon in the desert. Inside, in the shade of a dull afternoon, Sherwood leaned back, chewing off deliberate words, explaining how he'd been wronged by his enemies. He tried not to lie, he said, but he was an old man and maybe at times, his mind slipped. "Hell," he confessed, "we all lie when we're fixing to get whipped by a big old boy. You might lie just to save your ass.''